Religion is one of the most dominant influences of today’s society. It plays a central role in shaping the beliefs and interactions of people and influences community, family, and political life. Religious beliefs are a significant element of social life and motivate the actions of humans and group organizations for collective action (Johnstone 45-47). Religion is thus a crucial area of study, and many sociologists have come up with concepts to explain religion in modern life. Religion as a group phenomenon; one of the outstanding ideas, states that religion bears the characteristics of social groups such as sharing ideals and objectives. The church-sect typology relates religions to political organizations where these institutions hold the ability to exercise authority over members. Religion has also been conceptualized as being for socialization where people hold religious beliefs for identity formation (Armet 277). The most outstanding concept in today’s world, however, is that of religious conflict.
Religion has come out as both a cause of conflicts and a tool for conflict resolution. After the September 11thUS terror attacks, there has been an upsurge of conflicts in which religion plays a central role. This multidimensional aspect to religion has become prevalent in the modern world and has influenced people’s beliefs, government structures and marginalization of people. In a report by the Pew Research Centre, violence and discrimination against religious groups has become prevalent in all religions of the world. In the 198 countries surveyed, hostilities and attacks on minority faiths were evinced in one-third of those countries. Pew also stated that religious-based terrorism and sectarian violence were prevalent in one-fifth of the surveyed nations. In 30 percent of them, governments imposed legal limits on worship, religious garb and preaching (Reuters 1).
Religion has been alluded as a primary source of soft power and is being used and misused by religious and political organizations to further their interests. As of December 1992, 24 major wars had a spiritual dimension to them. While it is broadlyacknowledged that there are no ‘pure’ religious conflicts, the correlation between war and religion is high. In today’s world, the desire by the west to shape world affairs in a western way has been met withsignificant opposition by other religions which are mainlynon-Christian. The western nations hold a Manichean worldview in which they deem themselves to be right in every sphere, and they use aggressive force to project their beliefs on other religions. Western religions support authoritarian governments, and this politicisation of religion is evident in all faiths today.
There has also been an emergence of cultural violence in which religions strive to form a distinction between the chosen and unchosen, and where some classes of people are deemed as closer to God and possessing special rights than others do. An evidence of this is where some religions, such as the Catholic church, considerProtestant religions as being lowly. In almost all religions, there is a hierarchicalstructure where the leaders are perceived as being closer to God and hold special rights. Women are also deemed to be inferior to men in most religions, and this conflict based on gender has fuelled gender violence over the years. Women are discriminatedagainst, and this is justified by religious script where women hold lower positions of power and cannot commit some acts that are easily forgiven for men who commit them.
Some religions further fuel conflict dynamics by acting as bystanders. Abstaining from inaction has been the norm for most religions today. Most of the atrocities committed for example during the world war would have been preventedhad religions disapproved of them. Religions have, however, played a central role in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. These religions influence the moral-political climate, empower the weak, develop cooperation and provide humanitarian aid to those afflicted by conflict. Religions empower people by supporting protest movements, for example, the global campaign by religions against nuclear weapons (Williamson 243-247). Religions influence the moral-political climate by justifying war or peace, conservatism or progressivism, and tolerance or intolerance. Peacemaking has thus been central to the operations of most churches in today’s world.
While many religions have been involved in religious conflict, the Islam faith epitomises this trait by a significant magnitude. The Quran recognises the human propensity for conflict and gives permission for defensive warfare. Muslim scholars and politicians have developed a just-war theory where jihad is usedto commit religious atrocities and fuel hate among religions. Of the 24 major wars with a spiritual dimension, 16 of them involve Muslims. Islamist nations in the Middle East are torn by war where Islamist insurgents fight governments and other religions. Christians in Islamist countries have been forced from their homes or forced to change their religions. The Al Qaeda and Al Shabab insurgents operating in the Middle East and Somalia commit atrocities against humankind in the name of faith.
Besides conflicts based on war, the Islamic faith has also been purported to have the worst cases of gender discrimination. Sharia laws outline and structure how Moslem women should live their lives. There are inhibitions on whom to marry and at what age, property and hereditary rights, dress code, female genital mutilation, and the use of birth control. Divorce and a woman’s ability to receive justice in the case of sexual crimesare also inhibited. Governments dictate how these women live and whether the levels of education they can attain. The rights for women and the justification and propensity to conflict by the Islamic faith makes it the religion most prone to religious conflict.
Modern religion cannot be separated from politics. The conflict associated with religion and the concept of religion as a group phenomenon are thus closely associated. In considering religion as a group phenomenon, religion bears the characteristics of a social group with values and ideals that must be upheld. These social groups must uphold their ideals, and when the unity and objectives of the group are threatened, direct action must be instituted to remedy the situation. Religious organizations get involved in theconflict because their ideals are threatened. The main reason for the war between religions is the notion that some religions are superior to others and thus need to dictate their ideals over those they perceive as lowly. Religions have to protect their status and thus engage in war. Most conflicts have been justified on this premise. Religions also get involved in theconflict to safeguard the interests of their members. The people that subscribe to a particular religious affiliation demand and deserve protection from that religion. Religions will thus be involved in theconflict to protect the interest of their members, and those they feel have been betrayed by their religions.
In conclusion, the issue of religion has been widely debated. Each of the articulated concepts proffers a special platform on which modern religion can be analyzed. Religion is, however, a complex phenomenon with too many variables to account for. It is thus extremely difficult to adequately describe religion and provide comprehensive evidence to support the picking of one concept to describe world religion. Nonetheless, it is irrefutable that modern religion is continually becoming associated with conflict.
Armet, Stephen. “Religious socialization and identity formation of adolescents in high tension religions.” Review of Religious Research 50.3 (2009): 277-297. Print.
Johnstone, Ronald. Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion. 8th. New Jersey: Pearson, Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.
Reuters. “Religious conflict in global rise – report.” 14 January 2014. telegraph.co.uk. Document. 23 March 2015.
Williamson, Roger. “Why is religion still is a factor in armed conflict?” Bulletin of Peace Proposal 21.3 (1990): 243-253. Document.